Last October, before the 2019 Canadian federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made tackling online hate speech a major election policy for his Liberal Party.
Over the last few days, the Canadian government has doubled down on this pre-election proposal and signaled renewed efforts to impose tighter internet regulations based around the censorship buzzwords “hate speech” and “misinformation.”
On Tuesday, Canada’s Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, Catherine McKenna, responded to an article about the Government of Quebec having “a 12-person war room” that scrubs online hate and misinformation from Facebook and other online platforms by stating:
“I think there’s a lot that we can do, but the social media companies themselves need to step up. We don’t have to regulate everything but if you can’t regulate yourselves, governments will.”
One of the main criticisms of regulating based on vague terms such as hate speech and misinformation is that those enforcing the rules can censor anything they disagree with or don’t want to address by branding it as hate speech or misinformation.
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And when McKenna was asked about this tweet by digital media outlet Rebel News, her response demonstrated these concerns, with McKenna first denying the threat to regulate social media companies and then accusing Rebel News of contributing to “hate” against her because they’re spreading “misinformation and disinformation” by asking her about the tweet.
A day after McKenna tweeted out this threat to regulate social media companies, the Canadian government again referenced tighter internet regulations during Canada’s 2020 Speech from the Throne and vowed to “redouble its effort by taking action on online hate.”
While neither of these statements were specific policy proposals, they signal the Canadian government’s intent to take a more active role in policing what citizens can say on the internet.
These statements about internet regulation follow several unprecedented censorship decisions from Canadian law enforcement, courts, and the government over the last 12 months.
These decisions include the use of a legal request to block access to a Canadian subreddit, Canada’s Federal Court ordering internet service providers to block access to the pirate IPTV service GoldTV, and the Trudeau government suing digital media outlets to ban them from attending government press events.
In February, the Canadian government also proposed requiring news media outlets to get a license and said that this requirement would apply to websites that distribute content in Canada.